Courtney Bender is an associate professor of sociology at Columbia University and co-chair of the SSRC’s Working Group on Spirituality, Political Engagement, and Public Life. As a sociologist of religion, she pioneers novel ways of studying religion as it is lived and articulated in contemporary American culture. Her latest book, The New Metaphysicals: Spirituality and the American Religious Imagination (University of Chicago Press, forthcoming in June), emerged from her research in Cambridge, Massachusetts among people whose “spiritual but not religious” practices and outlooks have been unaccounted for by conventional methods used to identify and study communities of belief.
Posts Tagged ‘David Brooks’
A number of blogs recently have criticized David Brooks for his response to the earthquake in Haiti. Noting that Haiti’s extreme poverty has turned an unexceptional earthquake into a catastrophe of staggering scale, Brooks accounted for Haiti’s poverty by explaining that “Haiti, like most of the world’s poorest nations, suffers from a complex web of progress-resistant cultural influences.” While Brooks largely blames Haitians themselves for their poverty, his critics look more to structural and historical inequities. Over at Savage Minds, Kerim Friedman remarks that Brooks’s response is “much more insidious” and altogether worse than Pat Robertson’s much-lampooned suggestion that Haiti made a “pact with the devil.” After all, Friedman notes, people generally take David Brooks seriously.
A round-up of some of the recent commentary on President Obama and the ethics of war, following the invocation of Just War theory during his Nobel Prize acceptance speech.
Let me assure you. Ongoing neurological studies will not dramatically change religious belief or practice. As Robert Bellah notes in a recent comment, brain research does not have a direct effect on what people believe. Or as Christopher White thoughtfully writes in this forum, there is no wholesale transformation of religion on the horizon. I agree with both. But rather than maintain a defensive posture at this juncture in history, I believe that a more aggressive stance may be called for. [...]
The New York Times opinion piece by David Brooks, titled “The Neural Buddhists,” drives a wedge between mystical and “revealed” religions by citing recent philosophical and scientific scholarship. Brooks suggests that neuroscience (including psychology) poses a considerable challenge to religions that emphasize divine law or revelation. Brooks is right to predict that neuroscience will profoundly affect our culture’s thinking. Neuroscience forces us to revise our concept of self. And I agree that the investigation into universal moral intuitions raises interesting questions about the emergence of religion. My guess is that its most significant cultural contribution will be, simply, increased happiness. […]
David Brooks’s op-ed, “The Neural Buddhists,” is premised on a variety of conceptual confusions that are worth trying to clear up, although the widespread nature of some of these confusions says something quite interesting about innate human cognitive biases. I think he is mistaken about the precise character of the cultural impact of recent neuroscientific work, but the kinds of mistakes he makes points toward ways in which the contemporary neuroscientific model of the self continues to be misunderstood. […]
David Brooks, in his New York Times op-ed column “The Neural Buddhists,” offers speculations about how the “cognitive revolution” will impact religious belief. He goes on to cite studies by Andrew Newberg and others studying brain states that correlate with particular religious practices and experiences and then speculates as to what such research might mean for undercutting or bolstering particular religious commitments. Specifically, he suggests that doctrinal and theistic religions may be more threatened by contemporary science in this area than mystical religions. I suppose there is little harm in speculating, but we should get our “revolutions” straight. [...]
The first three postings in this series remind us how complex the individual topics of cognitive science, Buddhism, and religious experience can be. Certainly there are many interpretations of each—many more than an entire monograph could account for, let alone a column in the New York Times—and reminders of the density of such topics are valuable and need to be repeated. But the cultural phenomenon that David Brooks’s column describes is its own topic altogether. Just what this phenomenon is will probably take a while for historians to describe and for critical scholars to assess. My preliminary suggestion is that we are witnessing an aesthetic urge, in which scientists and Buddhists find common cause in their pursuit of a beautiful—albeit potentially dangerous— “theory of everything.” [...]
A century ago, in “Religion and Neurology,” the opening chapter of The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James argued against a “medical materialism” that would reduce religious experiences to their neurological causes for the purpose either of dismissing them or confirming them. Since that time, many have tried to understand religion through the study of religious experience and, like James, many have given special attention to mysticism. New techniques for the study of the brain have brought great advances, but David Brooks’s New York Times column “The Neural Buddhists” and the work of Andrew Newberg, to whom he refers, stand squarely in the tradition James was criticizing. [...]
On Sunday May 25, 2008 the New York Times published an article entitled “Superhighway to Bliss” about Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroscientist who suffered a stroke in 1996. After she regained the ability to speak, she described the experience as “nirvana.” Neuropathology as religious experience is nothing new, yet the next day, the piece was number one on the Times list of most e-mailed articles. In the Science Times section of the paper the following Tuesday, there was an article entitled “Lotus Therapy,” on the growing use of the meditation cushion to treat problems previously consigned to the analyst’s couch. The next day, “Lotus Therapy” had taken over the top spot as the most e-mailed article. Clearly, something is going on. But that had become clear two weeks earlier when the conservative commentator David Brooks entitled his May 13 op-ed piece, “The Neural Buddhists.” [...]